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Parking Authority windfall should be a win-win for Philadelphians

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What public agency has more than $230 million in revenues and some of the highest salaries in town, but doesn’t feel like sharing a $60 million windfall with the schools it’s supposed to help fund?

Yup. That would be the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

This spring, the PPA will put up for sale the first of 150 taxicab medallions, which will raise $400,000 to $500,000 apiece. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to do the math. Over the next nine years, the sale of 150 medallions could bring in $60 million to $75 million.

So where is this money supposed to go?

New York City used the sale of its taxi medallions to address budget deficits. But here in Pennsylvania, the state created a brand new “Taxicab Medallion Fund,” which will distribute the proceeds of the medallion sales right back to the PPA. This special fund shields the PPA from the traditional profit-sharing arrangement it has with the city and schools.

Good thing, too. Over the last two years, Parking Authority revenues are on the rise, but money sent to the School District has been plummeting – from $14 million in FY2012 to a projected $9.9 million this year, a loss of nearly one-third.

The Parking Authority's medallion sale has broader implications. For years, disability rights activists have been demanding that the PPA address the fact that there is only one wheelchair-accessible taxicab for every 20,000 disabled Philadelphians. You heard that ratio right. There are exactly seven wheelchair-accessible cabs in Philadelphia. Yet the PPA – in a decision entirely within their control – has decided to designate only 15 of the 150 new cabs for wheelchair accessibility. The others are up in the air. Compare this to New York City, where this month the city agreed to make half of its cabs wheelchair-accessible within six years.

In addition, taxicab drivers in the city have also been asking the PPA for a relief fund for drivers injured or killed on the job. Being a cab driver in Philadelphia is one of the most dangerous jobs around town. Two cab drivers were murdered this year; others have been seriously injured. Yet the PPA has refused to provide cab drivers any relief assistance despite ensuring that its own executives are well-paid – its board chair earns $75,000 per year for his board service.   

That’s why a coalition of parents, education and community advocates, the Taxi Workers Alliance (which represents cab drivers), and the disability rights community will go to Monday's Philadelphia Parking Authority board meeting to ask the PPA to rethink what seems like an awfully Grinchy plan. Instead of allowing the PPA to hoard tens of millions of dollars for itself and ignore the needs of residents and its own cab drivers, we’re proposing a meaningful solution.

We’re asking the Parking Authority to speed up the medallion sales. In fact, put all the medallions on sale at once and designate all of them wheelchair-accessible. Provide a much-needed service for Philadelphia’s disability community. Designate the $60 million-plus windfall for the schools and a small portion for a relief fund for cab drivers.

It’s a win-win all around.

Yes, it will take state legislation to make it happen. Yes, it will need the cooperation of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and buy-in from the local officials who support the agency. But in terms of Fiscal Year 2015 revenue, what are the options?

When it comes to school funding, the ideas have stalled out. Despite promises from city officials, last year’s cigarette and sales tax legislation haven’t moved in seven months. We have yet to hear a serious school funding proposal for FY2015 from either the city or the state.

Meanwhile, the Parking Authority is making money hand over fist from Philadelphians – money that is simply walking right out of our city. For example, the PPA has ticketed 787,000 Philadelphians through the red light camera program, reaping $72 million from residents over the last seven years of the program. Barely any of that money has stayed in Philadelphia. Instead, it’s going into the state treasury for distribution to legislative projects in other parts of the state.

We don’t want the taxicab medallion fund to be another lost opportunity for revenue.

The Parking Authority would like to tell you that it needs this money to expand taxicab enforcement in the city, despite the fact that it already has a fund specifically designed to do just that. It’s hard to justify $60 million to $75 million for the PPA to demand an enforcement that amounts to less than a 10 percent expansion of the Parking Authority’s fleet. While the PPA devises ways to extract more money from Philadelphia, isn’t it time to stop the practice of seeing this money walk out the door?

This $60 million is real money. It is one-time money, but it is real money. With all the needs in our city, ask yourself where you’d like to see this money go – the Parking Authority’s coffers or to our schools, our residents, and our working families?

To me, the choice is obvious.

Monday’s Parking Authority Board meeting takes place at 11:30 a.m. at the PPA offices, 701 Market Street, second floor.

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